The Cubs Need and Also Now Have Yu Darvish

Yu Darvish augments a rotation that lost two key members to free agency.
(Photo: Mike LaChance)

At the beginning of the offseason, Travis Sawchik suggested in these pages that, at a moment in the game defined by the presence of Haves and Have Nots, that the Cubs would need to sign right-hander Yu Darvish in order to retain their standing among the former group. Much later in the offseason — just a couple weeks ago, in fact — Craig Edwards asserted that the Cubs still needed to sign him.

As of this afternoon, however, the Cubs no longer need Yu Darvish. Because they already have him, is why. Please allow Ken Rosenthal to explain.

Given the strength of their offense, the Cubs were never in danger of failing to compete at some level this season. Chicago’s field players recorded the fifth-best WAR collectively among the league’s 30 clubs last season. They’re currently forecast to improve upon that finish, situated second at the moment in FanGraphs’ depth-chart projections for 2018.

But the pitching staff has been a different story. Despite having assembled a strong homegrown core of hitters, the organization has failed to develop pitching of any real merit. The pillars of their world-championship rotation were all mercenaries of a sort. Jason Hammel, John Lackey, Jon Lester all arrived as veterans. And while Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks both flourished only after arriving in Chicago, they still don’t really count as organizational successes — at least not the sort that are easily repeated.

Cubs pitchers finished just 12th by WAR last year — and that is a club that received roughly 340 innings combined from Arrieta and Lackey, both of whom left via free agency this winter. The midseason addition of Jose Quintana has compensated for those losses, of course. Nevertheless, depth has remained a pressing issue for the current iteration of the team. After all, the five-man rotation is a bit of a misnomer: clubs generally require some kind of contribution from eight starters over the course of a full season. The signing of Darvish allows them to substitute Darvish’s three wins for whatever replacement-level option (Eddie Butler? Luke Farrell?) was currently occupying that eighth-stater spot. It allows the Cubs to deploy Mike Montgomery in a swing role, for which he’s probably better suited.

Of course, in what has developed into the objectively slowest offseason ever, the terms of Darvish’s deal are also of some considerable interest. Back in November, erstwhile managing editor Dave Cameron designated Darvish as the top free agent of the winter, projecting him for a six-year, $168.0-million deal. The crowd was more reserved.

Yu Darvish Contract Estimates
Type Years AAV Total
Dave Cameron 6 $28.0 M $168.0 M
Median Crowdsource 5 $25.0 M $125.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 5.4 $24.0 M $130.7 M

On the one hand, one might observe the crowd’s projection and suppose that Darvish has just received a market-value deal in what appeared to be a hostile environment for free agents. On the other, it’s worth noting that the crowd has exhibited a tendency to misunderestimate deals received by top players. So, in reality, a correct prediction by the crowd for a pitcher of Darvish’s ability is actually historically incorrect. Maybe not $40 million incorrect, but Darvish has likely just signed for less than precedent would dictate.

We hoped you liked reading The Cubs Need and Also Now Have Yu Darvish by Carson Cistulli!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs




Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.

newest oldest most voted
sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

Maybe I misinterpreted the reports, but I think I read somewhere that the Twins and/or the Brewers made an offer of about that total amount over 5 years. If so, then Darvish took a “discount” by spreading it over 6 to make a team a real title contender.

Paul22
Member
Paul22

5/110. 16 million and a year short

Alan
Member
Alan

Apparently he can earn up to $150M and also has an opt-out clause. These make the contract worth more than a “vanilla” $126M for 6 years. Still, it is quite likely other teams outbid the Cubs in some sense but he preferred to go there – (pure speculation warning) maybe for the best chance to erase any questions about his playoff pitching so he can use that opt-out to cash in when all the big spenders are open for business.

sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

I didn’t know that, and yes, I agree that makes it a big difference.

After googling around, the opt-out sounds like it is after 2 years (but I haven’t seen any firm number on it). That would be another one of those “genius if it works” moves by the Cubs, because they would almost certainly prefer to pay Darvish through his age 31-32 seasons while avoiding 33-35/36.

JohnnyFang
Member
Member
JohnnyFang

I bet the Nats are glad Scherzer didn’t have an opt-out even though they will be paying him through age 36.

sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

I bet Max Scherzer is enough of an outlier that we’re both right.

ironfireman
Member
ironfireman

Scherzer will make 3/107+ his last 3 years $35.95m for years ’19-21

bly
Member
bly

It’s $30M AAV before the gimics. If you count it that way the Nats got a 6.4 WAR pitcher for $15M in the first year.

Alan
Member
Alan

The main feature for the Cubs is even if he opts out, he will not end up in Milwaukee this year or anywhere else in the NL Central ever if the Yankees, Dodgers, Rangers et al are bidding on him.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip

How does this myth still get perpetuated? The opt-out will not favor the Cubs. It just won’t. So, let’s say his opt-out has arrived:

-If the Cubs prefer Darvish to opt out, it’s because they don’t think he’s worth the remaining contract, in which case he won’t opt out.
-If the Cubs prefer Darvish not to opt out, it’s because they think he projects to do better than the remaining contract, in which case he will opt out.

Neither situation is preferable to the team. It’s a player option. Player options favor the players.

CC AFC
Member
Member
CC AFC

We don’t know what no-trade and opt out provisions may have been offered by those clubs, though. It sounds like yu got some valuable benefits on those items in this deal.